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MY LIFE IS ONLY MY OWN, NOT ANYONE ELSE'S

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Some religions teach that human beings don't stand alone but, on the contrary, are supernaturally connected to something outside themselves, such as God. It is easy to understand why some people believe this - since a person's mind does not have dimensions or boundaries in space, it is easy to think that it is infinite. Eastern religions (Hinduism, Buddhism) say that "we are all connected," i.e., all living things are supernaturally connected. Other religions refer to "the ground of all being," as if we are connected with some higher (or more basic) Mind. Some people, such as Paul Tillich, refer to "ultimate reality," which they posit but of which there is no evidence. This delusion is not only irrational but also harmful. In Joseph Addison's somewhat unforgiving words, "as it is the chief concern of wise men to retrench [reduce] the evils of life by the reasonings of philosophy, it is the employment of fools to multiply them by the sentiments of superstition." It's awful to think that someone is looking over our shoulder every minute or that someone is keeping a record of our good deeds and our bad deeds, like Santa Claus, who "knows if we've been naughty or nice." It is good for a person to be separate and to feel separate, to feel the freedom of not being watched. You can affect other beings, but you do so through your behavior, not directly (supernaturally) through your mind.

The truth is that every person's mind is separate - only the person is in direct control of his or her mind. When one's mind is not subject to the delusion of supernatural interconnectedness, it is more manageable. We are in charge of only one person, not the whole world. Furthermore, we feel less guilty - we are not being judged.

When prayers don't work, people who pray often blame themselves - they haven't prayed well enough. They carry the burden of the whole world on their shoulders. The fact is that circumstances, which are always in some way awful, are not your doing. You are not responsible for them.

That everyone is distinct and separate from everyone else is often known to be true but isn't felt to be true. One of the effects of being excluded, for instance, is that the resulting fear and hostility direct a person's attention outwards, toward outside danger. Being physically assaulted produces the same effect. A fearful and hostile person feels vulnerable, without adequate protection, at the mercy of outside powers, with the effect that he or she feels thin skinned, not well separated, like a buoy tossed in the waves. People who are self-doubting have more faith in others than in themselves, and, consequently, they focus their attention not on what they like and want but rather on what others like and want. They try to please others rather than themselves and in extreme cases sacrifice themselves to others. Since looking to others is a habit, they don't feel distinct and separate from others.

Not only do they not feel separate from other people, but they feel that other people are not separate from them. They try to push other people around and overwhelm them to get their way.

Our client Ruth is such a person. Recently she called to say that she absolutely had to have the report that we owed her by 5:00 p.m. I said, "Ruth, there is no way you can get the report by 5:00 p.m. It's tabulating in the computer now, but the computer is working slowly, and at this pace it will take twelve to fifteen hours to tabulate. It will be tabulating all night." Ruth said, "Malcolm will be wild! He will be off the wall! He needs the report by 5:00 p.m. What will I tell him? My God, I should be in another business." I said, "How can he get the report if it's not ready? He's an adult. He should be able to understand." Ruth responded, "He doesn't want to hear that." I said, "Ruth, we are living in the real world. Adult people understand that things don't always work out just the way we want them to." Ruth said, "Well, I want a guarantee you will send the report from your office by 8:00 o'clock in the morning. This is a must." I said, "If the computer doesn't shut down unexpectedly, and if the printer is working, we will send the report from here by 8:00 o'clock," but Ruth wanted more than that. "I want a guarantee you will send it by 8:00 o'clock."

Such people don't recognize the separate, individual dignity of other people. They are controlling people. They try to be you as well as themselves. This problem is particularly noticeable in some families where husbands and wives feel that the spouse is an extension of themselves. Tolstoy made a point of this in "The Kreutzer Sonata," in which Pozdnyshev says, "What was terrible, you know, was that I considered myself to have a complete right to her body as if it were my own, and yet at the same time I felt I could not control that body, that it was not mine and that she could dispose of it as she pleased, and that she wanted to dispose of it not as I wished her to." (Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilych and other Stories (New York: New American Library, 1960), 227) Similarly, some parents feel that their children are an extension of themselves rather than separate, independent human beings. Parents who habitually take a commanding (bossy, rude) tone with their children have this problem.

My experience as an educator is that some parents are excessively anxious for their children to conform. This anxiety causes these parents to be overly commanding to their children (they push their children around, verbally and/or physically), with the result that their children lose self-confidence. Their style contrasts with that of parents who allow their children great freedom, out of respect, giving their children a satisfying feeling of independence.

At one time I observed children in a kindergarten. I noticed one girl copying from another girl. For example, when the teacher had the children draw a picture of their favorite vegetable, the girl copied the other girl's picture of a carrot. My interpretation of this copying behavior is that the girl felt herself to be inferior. Feeling inferior, she looked upon doing things her way as foreign. Possibly, she felt hostile to knowledge as something that belongs to other people.

The tangle of feelings that must be in such children's minds is awesome. I believe that the rebelliousness of some children and teenagers can be traced to their parents' excessively controlling behavior. The children become hostile and don't want to learn.

Persons with a healthy attitude about themselves have a feeling that the body and the mind are impregnable. They grew up sensing a distinct boundary around themselves. This boundary begins at the surface of the body. If the boundary has been honored by a person's parents and others, the person has no experience of physical intrusions - there has been no physical punishment, assault, rape, suffocation, or mutilation - so the person feels whole and complete within himself or herself.

Persons without this sense of impregnability are persons who have been physically punished, assaulted, and so on. What should be a sacred boundary has been breached. Once hit - or raped or mutilated or forced under ether - the person is put on alert by his or her own mind to other possible intrusions. We call this condition anxiety or vulnerability or self-doubt, which brings a feeling of inferiority in its train.

Overwhelming passion shatters the boundary around the self. It leads to obsession with other people, which is an overvaluing of others and an undervaluing of the self. Unlucky is the person who experiences overwhelming passion. There is no peace in it. It is not an antidote to self-doubt. The sexualized personality is alert to just one thing, and other pleasures are obscured.It is unfortunate that our modern-day culture not only excuses but actually promotes overwhelming passion. People talk about "falling head over heels in love" or "losing one's head over someone" as if it was commendable. An Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary is seen nowadays as a person experiencing life's greatest gift. It may be life's greatest pleasure, but it is not life's greatest gift. It is a pleasure with barbs and should not be knuckled under to. It obscures life's real gifts - self-respect, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness.

Shakespeare knew this well in Sonnet No. 129:

The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action, and, till action, lust
Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,
Enjoy'd no sooner but despised straight,
Past reason hunted and, no sooner had,
Past reason hated, as a swallow'd bait
On purpose laid to make the taker mad,
Mad in pursuit and in possession so,
Had, having, and, in quest to have, extreme,
A bliss in proof and, proved, a very woe,
Before, a joy proposed, behind, a dream.
All this the world well knows, yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.

It is not only the body that should have a sacred boundary. It is also the self. The self that has received good care, both from caregivers and from the self, senses his or her own separateness from others. This condition is called self-reliance or self-respect. The first step in solidifying the boundary around the self is to be aware of it. The person can then be alert to intrusions. You can say to yourself, "You are feeling vulnerable. Actually, you are separate inside your skin. You are not anyone else's opinion of you."

Shakespeare understood this in Sonnet No. 94:

They that have power to hurt and will do none,
That do not do the thing they most do show [do not exert their power even though they have the trappings for it],
Who, moving others, are themselves as stone [they are self possessed],
Unmoved, cold, and to temptation slow,
They rightly do inherit heaven's graces
And husband [protect] nature's riches from expense [waste].
They are the lords and owners of their faces,
Others, but stewards of their excellence [other people serve those who are self possessed].

There is a sense in which we are interconnected - we all share time, which is only one time, and space, which is only one space. We are all in the flow of time together. Also, we share existence - all of us exist in the same existence.

Some people get a big charge from the delusion of interconnectedness. It overcomes the frustration of being just one person. Along with power, wealth, fame, and influence, it seems to break the limitation of being just one person. The idea that they are flowing into all things and that all things are flowing into them gives them a lift. This lift, however, is not grounded in reality.

The delusion of supernatural interconnectedness has another bad effect: it keeps alive guiltiness and shame that should be allowed to disappear. If you think that a record is being kept of all of your misdeeds and humiliations, you never get over feeling guilty and ashamed. Once you realize that there is no supernatural connection with anything outside of yourself, you can let go of your unwanted thoughts and feelings.

Then, too, there are people who think that their spouses (or other people) should be able to read their minds. They withdraw and go into a sulk, and if you ask them what is wrong, they say, "If you don't know, I'm not going to tell you." They don't realize that the only way for us human beings to understand one another is by communicating.

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